Anyone who’s been wondering why Walt Disney Co. stock is still an outstanding performer, despite such missteps as Disneyland Paris and “Newsies,” should have checked out Disneyland last Sunday afternoon: crowds as thick as five deep lined Main Street to watch a celebrity parade featuring stars on the level of, say, Charlene Tilton. The crowds were watching guests arrive for the opening of Disneyland’s newest ride, Indiana Jones Adventure. Once the masses get to actually ride the thing, beginning Friday, they’ll start showing up in even larger droves.
When the first Indiana Jones film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was released in 1981, it was praised for being a feature-length thrill ride. Indiana Jones Adventure lives up to that legacy, offering state-of-the-art ride effects, along with an ingenious prelude that will keep people distracted during the inevitable , interminable lines to get on the ride.
In the old days, of course, guests simply stood in long lines for, in the case of classic roller coasters, a ride in a bare-bones car that slowly climbed very high, then dropped very fast and whipped around turns at gravity-defying intensities. Disneyland rides simply added a minimal context — like a ride through Switzerland’s Matterhorn. In either case, it was as primal as it was thrilling.
The Jones Adventure, like so much else these days, is far more elaborate.
Now, guests are treated to an lavish pre-show as they wait in what will certainly be long, long lines. The line moves through long corridors designed to look like a decrepit cave in the jungles of India, its walls marked by strange figures (to make the time pass, guests will carry decoder cards, so they can figure out the messages, which are sometimes clever, sometimes plugs for the ride’s underwriter, AT&T).
As the line moves along, there’s a room with a giant stone altar, another with a perfectly re-created ’30s newsreel documenting Indie’s adventures. Typifying the attraction’s attention to details, an old movie projector flickers in the back of the room, although the film is projected through more modern means.
After winding through more passages, climbing stairs and seemingly navigating the length of India, guests finally climb into modified Jeeps — seating 12 apiece in three rows of four seats — and begin the 4 1/2-minute ride. It’s a ferocious, jerky trip through vaults full of spiders and giant snakes, across a rickety bridge over a pagan ritual out of “Temple of Doom,” past hungry headhunters, through dark corridors and finally dipping under the giant boulder taken from the start of “Raiders.”
Indiana Jones himself — or, at least, an animatronic re-creation — pops up periodically, doing some daredevil feat and offering witty quips. Thanks to the miracle of modern electronics, he speaks a selection of lines, and the vehicles trigger various effects, so that all rides are unique.
There is some sort of narrative thread — about a journey into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, in which riders offend the god, whose voice is supplied by, predictably, James Earl Jones — that will be hard for most people to follow. There are too many distractions, too much noise, too much sensory stimulation for anyone to notice or care.
Missing is the detail and clever narrative of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” to say nothing of its impossible-to-forget “yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me” theme song. What Indiana Jones Adventure offers, instead, is a white-knuckle, technically adept, enormously entertaining ’90s thrill ride.
Disney may not always be able to make live-action pictures that audiences want to see, but — Universal’s spectacular “Back to the Future” ride notwithstanding — they remain unsurpassed in making movie-based rides that will be the envy of the theme park business.